Writing Your First NSF-Style Proposal
Tessa Hill, UC Davis Sarah Penniston-Dorland, U Maryland
[email protected] [email protected]
Outline of topics
Your Program Officer Elements of successful proposals Common
pitfalls Resubmissions Myths debunked Strategies for proposal
Your Program Officer…
1. Is a scholar in your field (usually) who knows what
everybody is doing & is formative in directing the scholarship
of your field
2. Coordinates & runs the review process
3. Executes or makes funding decisions, depending upon agency
4. Advocates for your field in competition with other
areas and budget priorities. 5. Continues to work with you
throughout your grant and is
interested in your success!
Ask your Program Officer…
(After doing your homework) 1. Does your program fund this type
of research? 2. What is the average program budget and success
how many proposals in a competition? 3. What is the typical
size of a successful “new
investigator” project in this program? 4. What is the review
and decision-making process in this
program? 5. Are there special programs for which I qualify and
can I be considered for them? 6. Are you aware of other
agencies or organizations that
fund this kind of project?
Exercise: Short Professional Introductions
• Name • Title • Institution • 1-2 sentences describing
Exercise: Longer Professional Introductions
• Name • Title • Institution • Briefly describe a research
are considering writing a proposal to fund
A good source for information about Grant Writing:
Proposal strategic planning – Research significance
Pick a research topic you are considering writing a proposal to
fund. Why is this topic important?
¡ What is unique/transformative about the research?
¡ What are the benefits of this research?
How does this research fit with your overall career plan?
Components of an NSF proposal
Intellectual Merit & Broader Impacts
Data Management Plan
~1-2 pages of 15-page proposal Should be related to research
Can include education of graduate students,
incorporation of research materials into courses taught,
development of new courses…
...but think creatively! Be prepared and specific – think
make contact with experts and document their involvement in the
Include an evaluation plan
Elements of Successful Proposals:
Big Picture and Hypotheses
1. The relevance and importance of the proposed work should be
clearly stated. Connect it to the ‘big picture.’
2. Proposals should be hypothesis or question driven…
objectives/hypotheses/questions appear on the first 1-2 pages
• Hypotheses should relatable to big picture questions•
Outline tests of hypotheses and expected outcomes• Outline
Elements of Successful Proposals:
Formatting and Writing
1. Use images – a picture is worth a thousand words.
2. Well organized, with underlining, differences in type,
spacing, TITLES, to call attention to main points and structure
3. Written in appropriate size font. Smaller is not better!
4. Use active writing style rather than passive. This is not a
5. Describe new and exciting aspects of proposed research. Do
not cast it as an extension of previous research.
Formatting Tip: The timeline
Formatting Tip: The Conceptual Diagram
Elements of Successful Proposals:
Leave No Unanswered
1. Explain concepts clearly using concise language.• Don’t use
overly specialized terminology.
2. Provide preliminary data• Demonstrates ability to conduct
proposed research• Makes expected outcomes clear
3. Demonstrate access to resources required for research4.
Address potential outcomes, possible pitfalls and alternative
approaches5. Demonstrate expertise
• Use appropriate references (old and new)• Refer to your
published work on similar topics• Consider potential reviewers
when deciding upon references
1. Too ambitious - for proposed budget, for personnel, for
2. Results too specific and not generalizable
3. Importance of proposed work not fully explained
The Review Process
Who are/might be the reviewers?¡ You can suggest potential
reviewers in your proposal.
What are the review criteria? Become familiar with the review
¡ Offer to review grant proposals¡ Offer to serve on proposal
1. Specifically and directly addresses each review critique.2.
Substantially revise, rewrite, or remove sections that were
critiqued in earlier reviews.3. Update preliminary/pilot data
and interpretations.4. Incorporate new references that may have
the previous submission (or were missed in the prior
5. Include a refined/revised list of potential reviewers based
on reviews (some reading between the lines required).
6. Should appear noticeably stronger that the prior
NSF proposals – Some Facts
EOS article, 18 Dec 2012 (data are from Ocean Sciences
Program, which is part of Geosciences Directorate)
Junior investigators have just as good of a chance of getting
funded as their senior colleagues For Broader Impacts, it is better
to do one thing well than to propose a multi-faceted program for
many different groups 60-75% of proposals funded are first
submissions (20-22% second submissions, 5-10% third submissions).
Success rates of resubmissions were “generally close” to first
Complete your worksheet
What resources do you need to be successful?
What is the timeline for this research, from proposal
to what you do if it is funded?
Ask colleagues in the same field as you about expectations for
proposals in your field
Ask trusted colleagues to read through proposals
Consider ideas on how you will deal with the revision
Take advantage of special opportunities
DOE Early Career Awards
HHMI Professorships (for undergrad research)
Opportunities at your institution for early career faculty
NSF review criteria
• Intellectual Merit: The intellectual Merit criterion
encompasses the potential to advance knowledge; • Broader Impacts:
The Broader Impacts criterion encompasses the potential to benefit
society and contribute to the achievement of specific, desired
societal outcomes. The following elements should be considered in
the review for both criteria: 1. What is the potential for the
proposed activity to:a. advance knowledge and understanding
its own field or across different fields (Intellectual Merit);
andb. benefit society or advance desired societal outcomes (Broader
2. To what extent do the proposed activities suggest and
explore creative, original, or potentially transformative
3. Is the plan for carrying out the proposed activities
well-reasoned, well- organized, and based on a sound rationale?
Does the plan incorporate a mechanism to assess success?
4. How well qualified is the individual, team, or institution
to conduct the proposed activities? 5. Are there adequate
resources available to the PI (either at the home institution or
collaborations) to carry out the proposed activities?society and
contribute to the achievement of specific, desired societal
Get funding calls for proposals to come to you
Your Sponsored Projects Office¡ Meet your SPO contact, make
him/her familiar with your work
Individual Agency email lists¡ E.g. NSF
Community of Scholars – Pivot¡ http://pivot.cos.com (Free
Discipline-specific listservs Acknowledgements sections at
presentations Meeting with your program officers
Full STEM participation of women, persons with disabilities
and underrepresented minorities;
Improved STEM education and educator development at any
Development of a diverse, globally competitive STEM
workforce; Enhanced [STEM] infrastructure for research and
education; Increased public scientific literacy and public
engagement with [STEM]
science/technology; Increased partnerships between academia,
industry and others; Improved national security; Increased
economic competitiveness; and Improved well being of individuals
Broader Impacts –